Okay, first things first. Disclaimer: Don't own Final Fantasy VII, or Vincent, or Tifa, or Cloud, or Nibelheim, or...well, you get the picture. Just inserting them into the machine of my imagination and watching what pops out.

Second things next. This is based on another fic I wrote called 'Into the Dark'. Yup. How sad am I, writing fanfiction based on fanfiction.

Illuminating the Dark -- Part One

by: thelittletree

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You know what surprised me in the end? That there was so little to say. We knew each other as children, we felt that pull before he left for Shinra, all we could've been and could still be. We were there saving the world, side by side. We loved each other at one time, knew the other's body like it was our own. We hurt each other, badly. And then, nothing to say. Nothing except the things you expect to have to say.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. But I'll see you, okay? This isn't good-bye forever. I'll be around." Love you. "Bye, Cloud."

I naively thought in the beginning that it still had a chance to work, that we would stay friends. We'd been so close, it wouldn't make sense that we would drift apart now. But I was wrong. I loved him, somewhere inside. But it still hurt, though I couldn't see that until it was too late to mend the tear; I kept putting off the trip to Kalm. Had to work, had to help Lily, had to relax, had to do this, do that, had to cry into my pillow and didn't want him to see that, did I? And I knew he wouldn't come to Nibelheim. We'd talked about it sometimes until it became obvious that we couldn't talk about it without fighting. Yes, I was spending time with Vincent. Yes, he slept on my couch occasionally. Yes, we played cards, drank a little, ate together around Lily's kitchen table. But we weren't together in the way we both thought mattered, the way that he would've had cause to be jealous about.

No. No sex. Just cards, and drinks, and sleep, and talk. Cheap things, really, right? Just friends. Just all of the things that, somehow, had gone missing between Cloud and me.

Cloud, my lover. Vincent, my boyfriend. That's kind of how I've come to see it. Though I can't really lie to myself, even if I lied to Cloud. Told him Vincent and I were strictly platonic, and we were, are. But there is a spark between us, something neither of us have acknowledged in months, and actually it's become a little like a blanket over us; something no one else really knows about, except for Lily. Keeps us warm at night to know that someone out there might say yes if we ever changed our minds.

Keeps me warm at night sometimes because I dream. Never dreamed about a man before, not this way. Not even with Cloud. Vincent, so beautiful in my dreams when we're there together, wherever my unconscious mind puts us. Pale and dark, like the moon and the shadow, and his expression always the thing that puts me over the edge, the very emotion and desire there. So tantalizing because it could be true. If we ever ended up in that situation, I might see him like that: lips parted in gasps and sighs, eyes dusky russet in the dark, skin twitching in anticipation under my slow fingers. Oh, Vincent, if you knew... If only you knew...

I'm taking classes in the evenings now. Weights and punching bags and cardio and self-defense. All of the basics, and it's slowly coming back to me. My appetite's returned and I have muscles again in all of the flattering places. Even Vincent's noticed, and I've struggled sometimes not to smile in blushing pleasure when his eyes have found those new developments. He denies it in every other way, but he can't deny the curiousity of his eyes. Does he dream of me? Does he sometimes find himself picturing me out of that sweater, those pants, with my hair down and my expressing wanting? I think he must, though I doubt he allows himself to find pleasure in those things. Only the torment of fear.

Stubborn fool. But I have to laugh. I'm the one who wanted to come back to Nibelheim, and I'm the one who worked to make sure things were comfortable for us in the beginning so that we *could* talk and play cards and drink together. I put myself in this position in the end and I can't be mad at him for leaving me here. It was his choice long before I showed up, and I understand that fear far too well to fault him for being afraid.

I'm not afraid of him, though. Not anymore. I'm simply and sweetly falling for him. A hard person to know, I thought once, but he's not all that complicated. Not once you understand about his past and you realize that he doesn't hate people. Just like others, he wants security and stability, a place to call home, and people who care about him. He may act like he hates it, but he wants Lily to keep cooking for him and teasing him and barging in and sewing up his shirts. And he wants me to keep playing cards and talking about my life and asking him slightly more and more invasive questions and letting him crash on my couch. That's what he wants, just to be normal somewhere to some people. I'm surprised, actually, that one of those people turned out to be me.

I'm genuinely thankful that it turned out to be me.

Cloud suggested quietly that maybe we should start seeing other people. And I nodded, if only because I was afraid what my voice would sound like. I told Vincent what had happened (God, I tell him almost everything now), and I wasn't crying, which almost surprised me. I was too interested in his reaction. A gentle flick of his dark eyebrows, though he didn't look up into my face, intent on his cards. As if he was afraid he might give something away, though that might've been me reading something into it.

"And will you?"

I was smoking a little that night. Not, I'd been telling myself, because I wanted to share his cigarette. "I don't know. There aren't a lot of people in Nibelheim, really. Who would I date?"

"You see customers. And Lily might know some people." Still not looking up, adjusting his cards, and my heart had felt like it was beating in my throat.

"But I don't know how to do this. I've never really 'dated'. I've always kind of fallen into relationships with friends."

And I'd tingled somewhere when he'd glanced up at this, though his eyes were expertly unreadable. "I see."

Not, 'Then you should find some more friends.' Not, 'You should be willing to try something new.' Just, 'I see.' Like he might've wanted to follow it up with, 'If that's the case, then perhaps your next relationship will be with me.' And, suddenly unable to concentrate on my cards, I'd had to excuse myself to the bathroom.

Am I a fool to be falling for him? Yes, undoubtedly. But it feels so good to be around him. I love Lily and I love her company and sometimes it feels like I don't see enough of her. But I also love having Vincent to myself sometimes. Short, sweet, meaningful conversations a lot of the time. And his advice is always quiet and sound. He doesn't talk a lot, but when he does it's never frivolous or superfluous.

Reminds me of something I read somewhere when I was younger. How did it go? 'She rarely spoke, but when she did her words were good and full of sense so that you longed to hear.' I wanted to be the girl in that quote, I remember. Now I'm simply happy to know someone who falls into that crowd of quiet, down-to-earth, intelligent people. Unfortunately, there aren't enough of them.

There is one man, I guess, who I might not mind going out with. Tall and lean and smiling, he comes into the store to flirt with me. A few years older than me, maybe in his thirties, but still attractive and friendly. I don't know much about him, but maybe one of the reasons I've been hesitating (forgetting all of the other complicated reasons) is because he's come from a completely different world than me. He grew up in Junon, he tells me, and from the description of his house I can guess it was in the affluent side of town. Why he's in Nibelheim I haven't yet found out, but he certainly doesn't dress like everyone else. Sophisticated, I can't help thinking. Though he's nice and informal, and I'm sure he'd only laugh and put me at ease if he took me out to dinner and I spilled wine on the tablecloth or something.

I doubt in the back of my mind, I know, that it would go anywhere, but I have to start *somewhere*, don't I? Maybe I'm not looking for a relationship, even. Maybe it's too early to start introducing the stress of meeting and evaluating strangers. But maybe I just want someone to flirt with me and kiss me and hold my hand and pull me onto his lap. Maybe I just want someone to want me and pursue me and make me feel like a living, breathing woman again.

Maybe I'm just shallow. Maybe I'll end up hurting myself. But maybe I'll care later.

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So. This is going to be a quick 2- or 3-parter, just to wrap up loose ends. From Tifa's POV this time, because it felt right that way. So...one or two more installments, at some point. Not today. I don't work, and I'm freezing, and I need more sleep. And I need to eat something and drink some tea and drowse on my couch in front of the TV.